Saturday, August 1, 2020

COVID Madness: How Onerous Requirements Incentivize Lying

NYU is requiring essentially all non-New York students to: quarantine for 14 days; take a COVID-19 test before travel; take a test upon arrival; and take a THIRD test a week after arrival. (This is on top of requirements to wear face masks, socially distance, and fill out a form every day on campus attesting that you don't have any symptoms, haven't been in contact with anyone "suspected" of having the virus, etc., etc.) This defies common sense. The problem with catering to the most fearful is that eventually the people who engage in the riskiest behaviors will just lie. "Yeah, I've been tested." "Yeah, I quarantined." Here is my letter to NYU's VP for Student Affairs:


I am an incoming physics graduate student. My wife, a physician, will be joining the faculty at Columbia's Allen hospital. She and I both moved up here from North Carolina in mid-July. I have serious concerns about this email and the requirements of NYU.


NYU is requiring "out-of-tristate" students to quarantine for 14 days and get TWO tests and "strongly recommends" another test prior to travel. These mandates exceed legal requirements and defy both scientific recommendations and common sense, particularly given that everyone in NYU buildings will be required to: wear face masks; socially distance; and complete a daily COVID-19 "screener." These onerous requirements are obviously the result of fear, CYA culture, and litigation prevention, instead of rational thinking.


The main problem with overuse of caution is not the inconvenience and cost (in time and money) to everyone involved. That certainly is a problem, whether or not it is socially acceptable or politically correct to say so. The main problem is that there are many people who strongly disagree with the extremes to which authorities are willing to curtail personal freedoms to address COVID-19, and at some point these people may feel a line has been crossed and are no longer willing to cooperate.


The biggest red flag in your email is the statement that those who do not quarantine on campus "will be required to attest to having quarantined." Those who care about not spreading the virus to others are already acting responsibly. However, those who are more reckless in their interactions with others, faced with requirements to quarantine for 14 days (in a very expensive city) and get tested multiple times, will simply be more incentivized to lie and falsely "attest to having quarantined" or been tested multiple times. At some point, your requirements, and those of the city, state, and federal government, may become so onerous that people will simply "check the box" and say whatever they need to say to get through their day (which may include going to class, going to and getting paid for their employment, etc.).


Caring about the NYU community does not mean catering to the most fearful and litigious among them. At some point, the demands become so ridiculous that they become ineffective, ultimately resulting (ironically) in increased risk to the NYU community. Please don't let it get to that point.

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